“I need to get out of my head a little.” Henri is smirking in that way he knows I dislike, but I simply roll my eyes at him. I try not to—I don’t want to show any response to his gambits—but I can’t help it. “Do you know what I miss the most?” he continues.
“No, Henri. What?”
“Sneezing. I have a nose, so why can’t I sneeze?”
“You have a mouth, but you can’t seem to shut up, either.”
“Aww, chérie is so grumpy today.”
“Grumpy doesn’t begin to cover it.” I stare at him, hoping I look more furious than helpless. He stares back, and I watch as the mischief leaves his dark, wet eyes. Neither of us says anything for a long time, but I stand, finally, to adjust his neck stump from where it has begun to slip off the coffee table. I’d put him there rather carelessly. It’s not easy taking care of a living head. Such a task is not conveniently accommodated in the day-to-day. The experience has tolled on me in ways I can’t explain or even understand, although I also wonder sometimes if I’m just using it as an excuse.
“Are there any interesting jobs?” The teasing has left Henri’s voice, and I can tell he’s trying to be supportive. I still feel annoyed at him, but I’m also annoyed at myself for crushing his silly mood with my grumpiness. Henri has reminded me many times that a foul humor runs in my family.
“Not really.” I don’t lift my eyes from the computer screen to look at him.
“What is it you want to do, Katie? You’d be good at so many things.”
“Yeah, like what?” I feel a flush of anger. “How about deli cook? Counterperson? School bus driver? Dental assistant? CPA? What is a CPA, anyway…?”
“Certified Personal Accountant…”
“Front office manager? Medical biller? Property supervisor? Oh, wait a minute. This is it! Experienced door installer. Of course, all I’ve ever really wanted to do with my life is install doors! My raison d’être…”
“Sarcasm doesn’t flatter you, Katie, and neither does despair. Let’s go have fun.”
“How can I have fun? I have to find a job and I hate job hunting. Door installer! I hate doors. What could be more useless?”
“All is not lost…”
“All is lost.”
“What though the field be lost?” Henri insists, “All is not lost—the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield…”
I am jealous of Henri’s ability to quote at length. He loves to read, but not having fingers he stares at the same pages, sometimes for hours, until I come along and turn them for him. He sits in front of six or seven open books—if you can call it sitting when you don’t have an ass—in the peacock blue library, day after day. I envy his life. There’s never any question of his having to earn money.
“What would you know about it, Henri? All you ever were was a crook and a murderer.” I seriously doubt that Henri was actually guilty of that murder, but the accusation shuts him up.
We are together in the library—the continuously repeating library—for about an hour, enfolded in its peacock-colored walls. I feel capable of peacock-shrill shrieks, but with a silence contrapuntal to my mood I update my résumé. Finally, I close my laptop, very gently.
“Do you know what I really miss the most?” Henri almost whispers.
“What?” I sniffle.
“Scratching. Scratching my whole body in the morning, when the light comes through the window, and I know I will walk out into the sunshine and live one whole, beautiful day of my life. I have always been an Epicurean, although I didn’t know what that was until your grandfather taught me.”
I get up from my desk and take him in my arms, one hand stroking his eternally silky, black hair. I cry into his neck stump, and occasionally sob.
“There, there, chérie, Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. Get out of your head for a little while.”
He loves that phrase. He thinks it’s hilarious.
Henri and I move often; we can’t settle. I don’t earn enough money; late rents pile up. One of my talents is the ability to pack up a moving truck silently and in the dark. Another is house-painting. Everywhere we go, the first thing I do is paint the biggest room in our new apartment peacock blue and set up the library. I can paint a room in three hours flat. That includes the trim. The last time I did it, Henri suggested I add water to the paint, a technique called “color-washing” that he read about in a decorating magazine. It was a little messier, but we both like the effect: vaguely post-apocalyptic. “It could be the end of the world,” I tell Henri.
“It could be.” He smiles back at me.
With every change, every new job or apartment, I wonder, what kind of world is it now?
With the comforting perfume of paint in the air, I unfurl the heavy Turkish carpet, folding the edges under when the room’s too small for it. The room is always arranged the same, but sometimes the furniture crowds closer and there’s not as much space to move. This isn’t a problem for Henri. I wrestle his gigantic mahogany desk into the far corner, and place on top of it the porcelain owl from Germany that he loves so much. The orange chaise lounge goes to the right of it. On the other side is where my smaller, oak desk belongs, and behind it, the English secretary filing cabinet where I stow our bills and other important papers. Kitty-corner to my desk is the tiger-print sofa. I sleep there much more often than in my bed, which feels too large for me. Henri doesn’t sleep. He says that he dreams, though.
It’s only the library that needs to be continuously repeating, like a very old story. Like a tradition or something you can’t forget. The other rooms don’t matter.
The bookshelves with our hundreds of books get tucked behind the furniture catch-all-as-catch-can, and there are a few little tables to scatter about for Henri. His favorite is a round marble-top held aloft by the reaching hands of gilded children. I always thought they were cupids, but Henri pointed out that they lacked wings, and I had to admit he was right. This is Henri’s favorite perch. He thinks it makes him look regal. It’s actually very strange to see the hands of those golden children reaching up toward his neck stump, which is covered in a moldering piece of leather that smells a little like the tobacco of Grandfather’s pipe. Henri sometimes likes to smoke, but I have to hold the pipe for him after stuffing it with tobacco from the silver-scrollwork Burne-Jones tobacco canister.
Most of this stuff I inherited from Grandfather. I inherited Henri from my grandfather, too, and when he first came to live with me, we each searched our memories to recreate Grandfather’s library just as it was when he was alive. I agreed to that mostly to make Henri happy, who I was a little intimidated by then, or maybe I was just eager to please him. Since then, I’ve gotten rid of some of Grandfather’s brittle, old books and replaced them with the clean-smelling, edgy novels I like to read. Sometimes his books fetch some money, but I don’t want to sell too much of Grandfather’s stuff, even though it’s all old and heavy and a pain in the ass to move. Money would’ve been a better inheritance all around. Once I threatened to hawk the Tiffany, but I ended up selling my car instead.
I don’t think Henri can die, but if I ever wanted to test that theory, I could sell our 1866 edition of Paradise Lost, llustrated by Gustave Doré. That’s the one he most often asks me to place in front of him, staring at the picture of Satan sailing past the stars of each of the seven heavens. I think Satan is his favorite literary character. I’ve never been able to get past Book V of Paradise Lost.
“Why didn’t you die?” I asked Henri once. “How do you keep living?”
“Cogito ergo sum,” Henri replied, one eyebrow aloft. When I said nothing, he asked, “Didn’t you ever read René Descartes?”
I had tried one semester in college, and the attempt made me feel stupid. No matter how many times I read one of those paragraphs, I had no idea what the hell Descartes was talking about, but I didn’t divulge any of this to Henri, who was still looking at me. “I think, therefore, I am,” he translated finally.
Henri didn’t know Latin when he first met Grandfather. He couldn’t even read French, his native language. Grandfather taught him. They met right after Henri’s execution by guillotine. “Henri! Henri Languille! Look at me!” Grandfather had commanded, and Henri had opened his eyes and looked.
“I think I’m going to grow a moustache.”
I heard him but wasn’t listening, if you know what I mean. I was sitting on the orange chaise reading an email I didn’t think would ever come. “Henri, I got a job.” It was just in time. I had no money left.
“How marvelous, chér. Doing what?”
“Front office manager. In a law firm.”
Henri looked uncomfortable, not having had any great success with lawyers in the past. “It’s an immigration law firm,” I said quickly. “They help people, foreigners like you. People who need help.”
“Just because I’m not a naturalized citizen doesn’t mean I’m a foreigner.”
“I know, Henri, I didn’t mean …”
“I’ve lived in this country for almost 100 years, over three times as long as you have.”
“Well, do you have an American passport?”
“I don’t have any passport.”
“We’ll have to get you one, then. All we need is a headshot.” After a second, we both started to laugh.
Living with Henri isn’t always easy, but it might be easier than living with any other man I’ve ever met. He doesn’t eat, which is perfect because I don’t cook. He drinks wine, but only the cheap stuff, and very moderately. Once or twice he’s had a sip or two too much and fallen off his desk, badly bruising the lunar pallor of his forehead. He hardly smokes, and he’s actually very funny and amiable most of the time. On the negative side, we can’t go out to dinner together, or take walks, or go horseback riding. I bring him to the movies and occasionally to a concert, but he has to stay in my bag, peering out and at times laughing inappropriately. Laughter is always inappropriate when it’s loud and male and emerging from your shoulder bag. It tends to draw stares. Telling your bag to “shhh” doesn’t help the situation. And he’s heavier than you’d think.
The worst thing about it, though, the thing that keeps me up at night staring at the darkened peacock blue walls, is that I fear because of Henri I will never have a normal life. Whoever marries me also marries my living head. It doesn’t seem feasible, somehow.
Sometimes Henri and I have picnics in the park, and he tells me about life as a thug in Belle Époque France. These stories rarely make Henri happy, but I think he has to get it out, all this baggage from his past life. He says he killed a woman in her bed. He didn’t mean to, but she woke up while he was robbing her, and he cut her throat, just like that, without thinking. I can’t picture Henri doing that—murdering, not thinking—but he reminds me (for the thousandth time) that he is an intellect with teeth. In such a quick, tense moment, he says, you forget how long life is, and that you live with your every action all that time, like it or not. Henri cannot cry. On one of these picnics, he got fleas, and we had a hell of a time combing them all out of his thick hair with the tiniest comb either of us had ever seen.
I’m happy about my new job. “I think you’d look nice with a moustache.”
“I had one before, you know.”
“I know. I saw the pictures.” I’d seen pictures of Henri’s body, too, before the incident with the guillotine. He looked strange with a body.
At my new job, I got headaches from the fluorescent lights, the questions people asked me, the tightness of my ponytail, and the incessantly ringing phones. But that is where I met Estéban. He was twenty-nine, a little older than me, here on a student visa. I hardly noticed him at first amongst the throngs of other barely comprehensible clients asking me urgent questions about forms I had never heard of, but over time, I recognized that he was much nicer to me than anyone else. One of the senior legal aids, Kristen or Kirsten—I alternated calling her these names because I couldn’t remember which one it was supposed to be—mentioned to me, “Estéban has a total crush on you.”
“How do you know?”
“He told me. He doesn’t even care if you have a boyfriend.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“He’ll be happy to know that!”
A couple days later, Estéban asked me out to dinner. I hesitated, but then he said he’d pay. That’s not why I was hesitating, but it was a convenient excuse to hesitate. After all, a normal girl would go on a date with Estéban. He was handsome enough, though too skinny, and he spoke with that kind of enthusiasm that is supposed to be winsome and charming. Furthermore, he was an artist.
Later that night, I told Henri that I was going out on a date. He was poring over a book of Apollinaire’s poems, Gulliver’s Travels, a map of the Ottoman Empire, the Oxford English Dictionary A-O, a biography of Joan of Arc, an old issue of House Beautiful, and a book of Grandfather’s about hunting and hawking.
“Can you turn the page for me, please?”
I turned the page in each book. One of Apollinaire’s lines jumped out at me. It’s raining, my soul, it’s raining, but it’s raining dead eyes.
“Who are you going out on a date with?”
“Someone I met at work.”
“No, a client.”
“Be careful with people you meet in a lawyer’s office.”
That seemed like good advice, and I said so. I tried to catch Henri’s eye, but he was studying the pages of his books, his chin bowed seriously into his truncated neck. His moustache needed trimming. “Henri,” I said, but he did not look up. “Henri!” After another minute, Henri turned to look at me. He did not have dead eyes. They were bright and vaguely sad. But the next morning when I woke up for work, it was raining, and I thought about the line again.
Estéban wore all black on our date. He looked tall. He picked me up in front of my apartment and, as I was buckling my seatbelt, told me I was beautiful. Over dinner it always seemed as though there wasn’t going to be enough conversation to get us through it, but somehow there was always more. I don’t know if that was because of me or because of Estéban. When he dropped me off, he asked me to sit in the car and listen to a song with him before leaving. It was a Spanish song, and I asked him what it meant. Estéban just smiled at me, and when the song was over, he kissed me. His mouth was warm and wet.
There were more dates after that. Because Estéban was an artist and a student and alone in the world, after our first dinner together, I paid for everything, for dinner and movie tickets and new clothes for both of us to wear on our dates. It was nice to take care of him in these ways and nice to spend time with someone who ate dinner and wore clothes. Estéban started talking excitedly about how we were falling in love. I didn’t think I was falling in love, but I didn’t want to say so and ruin Estéban’s happiness. Later there would be a time for telling him, I thought.
When he came into the law office, he would walk right around the counter to my desk, and I would stand up smiling, and he would put his hand on my waist and kiss me. The lawyers and legal aides frowned at this, but I didn’t care. For me, a little bit of romance was like a shot of rum for someone who doesn’t drink. It went straight to my head. I found it hard to care about anything else except the romance of me and Estéban. After a while, even Kristen or Kirsten stopped smiling at the mention of his name. Then one night I realized that I was falling in love with him. We were on the sofa in his apartment. We heard his roommate’s key in the lock, and I sat upright, pushing Estéban away with one hand and pulling my skirt down with the other. His roommate came in and walked through to the kitchen. A second later, he yelled, “Estéban, did you eat all my banana chips?” Estéban and I looked at each other and laughed, and that was when I knew he was right. We were falling in love.
Henri had taken up smoking cigarettes. He didn’t say anything, but I knew what he was thinking. Shut up! I said silently, shut up, shut up! And then, Estéban, Estéban, Estéban. As I lay in the peacock blue room at night, I repeated his name to myself just to feel that fist of happiness wrenching my guts.
“If I had a heart, I would tear open my breast and show it to you, so you could see from your image therein how beautiful you are.”
“Who wrote that?”
“I did. I am composing poetry now.”
“You’re so French! And you’re a bad poet.”
“I know.” Henri looked miserable, wincing at the smoke curling from the cigarette clenched between his lips.
The night after that Estéban broke down crying very unexpectedly. He told me how his parents had hated him, hit him, accused him of being ugly and bad. Then they had abandoned him. All I could think of was Henri’s poem, and I repeated it to Estéban. “If I had a heart, I would tear open my breast and show it to you, so you could see from your image therein how beautiful you are.”
“You are so nice to me,” Estéban said, “No one has ever been this nice to me.”
“No one has ever loved you as I do.”
“Yes, that is probably true.”
If Estéban liked Henri’s poetry, he might like Henri, too. I wanted for Estéban to have Henri the way I did, because even though I did not have any parents, either, I had had Grandfather, and then Henri. I wanted to share everything I had with Estéban, to strengthen him.
At the law office, I became aware that something was not working with Estéban’s visa, and then he told me that he was despairing, likely to be deported back to his country, a place that held nothing but memories of people who hated him. All he wanted was to be able to do his art, and live in America, and love me forever.
“I’ve got it!” Estéban said. “We should get married! Then I can stay in America, and when I am a famous artist, you will be the muse by my side, and everyone will know that all my wonderful work is because of you, only you.”
Later, I told Henri, “I am getting married.” Henri did nothing, but what did I expect? Was he going to jump up and down? Was he going to hug me and spin me around? “What do you think about that?” I demanded.
“Nothing,” Henri said. There were dark circles under his eyes and some tobacco stuck in his curling mustache.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing.”
“If you have something to say, say it, Henri.”
“I cannot say it. I should, but you are so happy. I like to see you this way.” He couldn’t have looked more wretched. “I am an Epicurean at heart. Happiness is the only purpose of life.”
That was something Grandfather had always said: “Happiness is the only purpose of life.” He also said, “I am an Epicurean at heart.” I didn’t really know what that meant, but Henri did. As a little girl, I’d sit in the peacock blue library, listening to them talk for hours and hours. Grandfather would leap around the room, which was larger than any of the continuously repeating libraries we’ve been able to reproduce since, pulling books off the shelves and holding them open before Henri, perched magisterially upon the marble-top table. Sometimes they’d glare at the words together, and then mumble half-thoughts as they reflected, staring in different directions. Sometimes they’d laugh uproariously or yell at each other. “I am an intellect with sinew,” Grandfather used to yell. “And I am an intellect with teeth,” Henri would yell back. That usually made them laugh. Grandfather would light his pipe, and I’d inhale deeply smoke that smelled of burning bark and clove. I learned to light Henri’s pipe and hold it to his lips. Henri was always very courteous and thanked me, and Grandfather would stroke my hair as he searched his shelves for a book I might like to read. If I left the room for the world outside the peacock blue library, neither of them was likely to notice, and no matter where I went in the house I could always hear their voices, not their words, but their voices.
Sometimes, in the continuously-repeating library, I close my eyes and hear him. Or almost hear him.
Grandfather never told me that my parents were in Heaven and that I would see them again. He didn’t believe in Heaven; he believed in atoms. I knew how they died, plane crash, and I knew their names, Julie and Robert. I saw pictures of my mother as a little girl, standing with Grandfather and Henri in the peacock blue library, and I wondered what she had thought of Henri. Henri had always been part of her life, as he had mine. Grandfather had met him in Orleans, France in 1905, long before my mother was born. I know this because I’ve read brittle newspaper clippings about it. The newspaper mentions Henri by name and shows a picture of him standing almost proudly next to the guillotine. People were surprised, after the decapitation, when Henri heard Grandfather calling his name and opened his eyes. Think of how much more surprised they would be to hear him reciting his own English translation of De Rerum Natura to Grandfather seventy years later.
Grandfather was a very successful doctor in St. Louis, Missouri, where I was born. I used most of his money, though, trying to keep him alive for another year, and then another month. He didn’t want me to, but I couldn’t bear the thought of life without him. After Grandfather died, it felt like the world had ended. I looked around and wondered, What kind of world is it now?
Henri and I could not stay in St. Lou. I did not have Grandfather’s knack for being stable or earning money. We have moved out of apartments in the middle of the night, leaving town just as dawn was breaking on highways that I couldn’t see the end of. Henri always rolls with the punches, easier than I do.
Henri says young people do not understand how to be happy, but that he can teach me. “Boethius had Lady Philosophy,” he says, “and you have me.” I’m not sure how this is supposed to be reassuring when everyone knows that Lady Philosophy didn’t help Boethius from being bludgeoned to death. I often get annoyed by Henri, but when he smiles, it’s hard to stay angry. He’s all I have left of Grandfather, Henri and the continuously repeating library. And sometimes when Henri says, “I am an Epicurean at heart,” I remember Grandfather’s voice, and what it was like to feel his hand on my hair, the only person who ever cared for me.
Estéban tore my clothes off every time I’d come to his apartment. My skirts and sweaters flew across the room, and he’d sigh in my ear how eager he was to be married. It was flattering and exciting. We hastily made plans. Even though neither of us really knew anyone, I wanted to have a real wedding. It seemed implausible, but I dimly pictured Kristen or Kirsten dancing with Henri. The fact of my imminent marriage made anything seem possible. I kept Estéban apprised of all my plans as he unzipped, unbuttoned, and untied my personal effects.
On the morning I was supposed to go to New York where a cousin was going to get me a discount on my gown, she called to tell me that her record deal had been signed and she’d quit Saks Fifth Avenue. “Oh, shit!” I said, but then added, “Congratulations.”
I thought about calling Estéban to tell him my trip was cancelled, but decided to walk through the stores downtown, instead, to see if there might be a pretty dress there I could buy. Henri asked if he could come along, and although I didn’t feel like bearing his weight, he looked so wretched I felt guilty saying no.
As we were crossing Main Street, I spotted Estéban on the corner, all in black. “Look, Henri!” I pulled down the edge of my shoulder bag. “There he is! Isn’t he handsome?” And then, as we watched, a girl in dark tights skipped out of the record store and threw herself into Estéban’s waiting arms.
“Apparently she thinks so.”
We looked, our faces twisting with discretely rampaging emotions, as Estéban tangled his fingers in the girl’s dark hair, pulled her face close to his, and kissed her passionately. I almost screamed, I think, but my voice came out as a strangled whimper, and I began to cross the street.
“Don’t go over there, Katie! Chérie, believe me, you don’t—”
“Shut up, Henri!” This time my voice shrieked across the blacktop, causing several heads to turn our way, including Estéban’s, and on his face was a look I had never seen there before. It was indifference, or indifference mixed with loathing, but the look only lasted an instant, and he shoved the girl away.
“Are you following me?” he asked.
“How could you, Estéban? Estéban?”
“Are you following me? What kind of creep are you?”
Henri was sputtering with rage from within my bag. “You dare to speak to her that way? You, you!” and Estéban just stared at us.
“Who is speaking now?” He was confused.
“You are a liar and a scoundrel! Liar, liar!” Henri would not stop yelling, and when I opened my bag to silence him, I saw that his face, usually so pallid, was dark with rage. One of his cheeks twitched with the effort of freeing himself. “I could kill you!” he screamed. I had never seen this side of Henri before.
It was clear from the expression on Estéban’s face that he had also seen Henri, and he had the look of someone immobilized just when he most wanted to run. “The devil,” he whispered, but barely, “you’re the devil!”
“Ha! Ha!” Henri shrieked. I almost dropped my bag from the fury of his thrashing, and there was a nauseating moment when I imagined Henri rolling down the sidewalk in front of the record store, but instead, fumbling, I lost my hold on him and he sailed in a ferocious arc, landing on Estéban’s shoulder, teeth first. I don’t know if I threw him or he propelled himself, fueled by a bloodless rage, but in the moment it was a horrifying sight—Estéban convulsing in an effort to loosen Henri from his black sweater.
Henri did not get hurt, however, and I smile to think of it now. A few days later, when I went by the law office to pick up my severance, Kirsten or Kristen told me that Estéban had needed seven stitches before being deported. I will never doubt it again; Henri truly is an intellect with teeth.
He is staring at the picture of Satan falling, falling from Paradise into Hell. Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven, he mumbled. Imagine dropping out of Heaven, a perfect place, looking around and wondering to yourself, What kind of world is it now?
Farewell happy fields where joy forever dwells! Profoundest hell, receive thy new possessor, one who brings a mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven, I thought, having heard Henri recite it a thousand times.
I’d finished painting the library about an hour before, but hadn’t yet changed out of my peacock blue-spattered clothes. This, of all outfits, was the one that best illustrated what my life was like. Before moving from the last place, I took every outfit Estéban had seen me in—the tweed skirts and wool sweaters I’d worn to the law office and the short dresses I’d worn on our dates—and put them in a white trash bag which I left on the curb before we pulled away. The most romantic love I’d ever felt, and yet it had been a mistake. I couldn’t understand it, and even Henri couldn’t explain it to me. Henri, who knew everything. Also before we moved, Henri asked me to shave off his moustache, which he deemed not worth the bother. He also informed me that he’d given up smoking.
“Aw, what the hell, Henri. It’s not like cigarettes are going to kill you. Live a little! I thought you were an Epicurean.”
“I’m an Epicurean at heart,” Henri corrected me. It wouldn’t have been nice to point out that, literally speaking, he didn’t have a heart.
After Henri gave up smoking, his color improved and the bags under his eyes receded. He smiled from time to time, reciting random lines of poetry as I painted the library. If he’d quoted, Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, I would have choked him, but he avoided the topics of love and marriage. I had a feeling we’d avoid these topics for a long time. The windows were open to let the paint fumes out, and we both shivered a little in the early spring air; there were goosebumps on Henri’s neck stump, and on my neck, too. It was spring but nature didn’t seem to know it yet, remaining brown and flat and ugly. The sun knew it, golden and warm, and the sky knew it, but earth had not caught on. “What if the world just stopped, this moment, and never became anything different from this?” I asked Henri.
“Repeat this magic charm with me: Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble.” Henri had been re-reading Shakespeare.
“You really are the devil.”
“You take that as a compliment, don’t you?”
“I always take it as a compliment when despicable people disdain me.”
“So, now I’m despicable?”
“Chérie, I didn’t mean you.”
“I know who you meant.” In an instant I was grumpy again. I banged around the peacock blue library, continuously repeating, maybe, but not the same as when Grandfather was alive. It would never be that way again. I couldn’t hope for that. Maybe that meant it was not continuously repeating after all, but just a bad copy.
I picked up Henri and roughly placed him on the coffee table to make room for his desk, so heavy, sliding over the Turkish carpet, the chaise, the secretary, the sofa, the bookshelves, the boxes, the tables. He watched, tipping precariously, with anxious eyes. The porcelain owl rocked a little as I slammed it into place, and I thought Henri was going to say something. The owl didn’t fall, and neither did Henri, and he remained mute as I banged everything else, continuously repeating, into its accustomed spot. This library was on the smaller side, but everything fit, crammed and touching. I bumped my hip hard against the edge of my desk as I plugged in my laptop and sat down.
“Damn!” I yelled, flipping open my computer and punching the keys. “What new shitty job awaits?”
“What kind of job would you like to do, Katie? What would make you happy?”
“What does that matter? I’ll never get a job I actually like, and if I did …”
Henri looked at me, waiting, waiting to fall off the table, which he surely would in a moment, and waiting for my answer.
“If I did, I’d lose that job, too. Who could hold down a job with a living head to take care of? It’s pointless, pointless! I’ll never have a normal life.”
“Is that so bad, Chérie? Who’s to say whether a normal life would make you happy? Your grandfather knew what he was doing bequeathing me to you. It might seem like a trial …”
“Damn straight, it’s a trial!”
“But I can help you, too. We can be happy together.”
I did not answer him. I would not. I stared at the jobs on the computer screen. The stupid, stupid jobs.
“We are thinking about things too much. Life is to be lived! Let’s go do something diverting. I am an Epicurean at heart, you know.”
I knew. I’d heard all about it. Still, I refused to look at him, hoping he would not crack the joke about needing to get out of his head. I waited, instead, for the thud that would signal he’d finally fallen off the table. I thought about Satan, falling, the stars lighting his descent. Somehow Satan had made the most out of hell, and Henri admired him for this. What kind of world is it now? A world with a heaven, a hell, a host of paradises and just as many paradises lost. Wasn’t that what every life was? Mine, certainly. Yet amidst all this loss, there had been built principalities, kingdoms, empires, and somehow people found ways to subjugate their demons, to reign supreme in their own private hell. For a moment, my anger subsided, replaced by wonder, and I looked out the window at the ugly spring day, feeling irrationally that this day had been made for me, this day of mud and dead leaves—I was its new possessor. I could do whatever I wanted today, and suddenly I didn’t even mind that it was ugly. I thought about Henri, long ago, scratching himself in the sunlight.
And then, as expected, he said it, smirking, his dumb joke, but this time, for some reason, I actually found it funny.